Ad-Express and Daily Iowegian, Centerville, IA

Business

December 23, 2011

23-year-old entrepreneur sees potential on Centerville’s levee

CENTERVILLE — A new dollar store has been doing a brisk business this holiday season.

The owner and manager of Dollar Plus, Daniel Saldana, said he located the business in the area known as the levee because it is close to the Wal-Mart being built south of town.

“With Wal-Mart opening in June, I think the levee’s going to be the hip new location to be,” Saldana said.

Saldana, 23, said he was always interested in opening his own business. In 2009, his mother, Marion Saldana, died of mesothelioma. Saldana said the family received money after her death that he is using to start the business.  

“It’s so awesome, the opportunity to be 23 years old and own my own business,” Saldana said. “I just know how happy my mom would be right now.”

He added that his mother’s mother, Janet Martin, visits the store every day. He said she often tells him how proud his mother would be.

The building, located at 1219 S. 18th St., previously housed M & M Electronics and a tattoo shop. Saldana said he spent more than $100,00 on the remodeling, which included restoring an antique tin ceiling and putting in new plumbing, electrical, heating and air conditioning. The building now has a handicap-accessible bathroom, and Saldana said it will have a handicap-accessible entryway within two years.

Employee Pam Jessop, who is in charge of ordering and inventory control, said the new store fills a need in its neighborhood.

“A lot of the customers have stated that it’s in the right area for them because they can just walk there,” Jessop said.

The store has been busy since it opened Nov. 1. More than once, Saldana said, the store has sold more than 1,000 items in one day.

“If you can sell over a thousand one-dollar items in one day, that’s crazy,” he said.

Saldana said the store’s main specialty is party supplies. He plans to add helium balloons in the near future. Other main areas of the store include cleaning supplies, food and over-the-counter medicine.

Almost every item in the store is $1. One small section is devoted to what Saldana terms “plus” items. For example, right now he is carrying snow shovels that cost more than a dollar. He said he plans to carry various “plus” items but not to alter the mission of the store.

“It is not like I am going to stop selling items for a dollar,” he said. “I want to be known as a dollar store.”

Saldana, who graduated from high school in Albia in 2008, lived in Centerville when he was younger. He first became interested in dollar stores about a decade ago when he worked at one on the Centerville Square that was owned by Jamie Lewellen of Iron Dreams. Saldana said he learned a lot from Lewellen, who is now helping him out at Dollar Plus.  

Saldana, who studied electronic engineering at Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa, said another major influence on him was Frank Munyon of Albia. Saldana said he learned a lot about bookwork and taxes when he worked for Munyon at the Albia movie theater.

He said he thinks the economic downturn has trained consumers to look for better deals, and dollar stores are a part of that.

“The United States is coming out of a recession, and everyone’s used to having to save a little bit of money,” he said. “So when we start picking up jobs and the economy starts growing again, people will have that tuned into their head that they were shopping at a dollar store.”

Saldana said he is experimenting with different distributors and is figuring out what sells and what doesn’t.

What sells? Fuzzy toe socks, for one. Saldana said he can’t keep socks with individual toes in stock. He recently went through a shipment of 1500 pairs.

Another way Saldana is determining what sells is by taking customer requests, which he writes down in a notebook he keeps near the front desk. He estimated that half his merchandise is the result of requests. He said some requests are items he cannot sell for a dollar, but he tries to make it work.

“Selling stuff for a dollar is hard,” he said. “Buying stuff for a dollar is even harder.”

For example, Saldana said, he buys bleach for 95 cents a bottle. If a customer buys a bottle of bleach, the store only makes 5 cents. But, he added, someone who buys a bottle of bleach often picks up a few other items while in the store.

“Basically I might not make money on something, but I’m not just here to make a profit,” he said. “I am here to service the community as well.”

Saldana said he considered buying a franchise of a national dollar store chain. But, he said, the franchising fee for one dollar store he looked at was $100,000.

“Why not spend $100,000 remodeling a place and building it for myself?” he said.

He added that franchises usually have rules about which distributors can be used and how many hours employees must work.

“Franchises have a lot more work,” Saldana said. “The advertising might be there, but when you’re in a local town, advertising is more than anything by word-of-mouth.”

Saldana said he is not hiring now but might add more employees in the future. Currently, he said, some of his family members work at the store, including his sister, Kassi Knowles. He added that he hopes to open more locations in the future.

On Saturday, which is Christmas Eve, all Christmas items at Dollar Plus will be 75 cents each. Dollar Plus will be closed Dec. 25 through Jan. 2. When it reopens Jan. 3, the new hours will be Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. The website, which will be up soon, will be dollarpluscenterville.com.

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